Games like Journey, Abzû, and Bound offer us unique and breathtaking experiences that I continue to grow to appreciate. These games showed us that an adventure game doesn't have to be filled with puzzles to be special. So, when I saw that InnerSpace seemed to be following in the footsteps of the aforementioned games, I was immediately drawn to it. What I got was another unique experience, but not always for the right reasons.
In InnerSpace, you play as a newly sentient plane/submarine hybrid. Your goal is to collect relics and Wind to unlock new airframes. Along the way, you encounter a few demigods that used to live in the now ruined cities of the Ancients. While this concept might sound mildly appealing, unfortunately, none of it comes together to form a meaningful narrative. In fact, there is barely any plot or story to be found in InnerSpace at all.
Perhaps the biggest misstep when it comes to InnerSpace's story is the prioritization of lore over narrative. The lore in this game could have been interesting had it been presented in any form other than exposition through dialogue. Instead, all we get is a few stop points in the gameplay where either a demigod or your quest-giving submarine companion espouse some facts about the world of the Inverse some centuries ago. This is a classic case of where "show, don't tell" could have been better applied. InnerSpace is never able to come close to the environmental storytelling of the games it is obviously trying to emulate, and so it fails to create any meaningful, lasting emotional response from the player.
Any game in which your primary mode of movement is flying needs to have solid controls. While InnerSpace's controls certainly take some getting used to, I found that I could comfortably pull off just about any maneuver I could think of after an hour or two. It takes a while for the physics to make sense, but it makes the act of actually flying or zooming through water feel fantastic once they do. Much of this can be accredited to the inclusion of a drift feature, which allows you turn tight corners while still keeping your momentum. It's not the most realistic mechanic, but it certainly is a hell of a lot of fun to drift around maps and through tight spaces with relative ease. By the end of the game, you feel like an aeronautic god.
However, deciding where to fly turns out to be a much more tedious assignment than the flying itself. While modern games take a lot of flak for handholding and giving too much direction to the player, InnerSpace falls on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There were stretches in this game where I had no idea what the objective was, let alone where I could find it. I was stuck in one of the game's maps for over an hour flying in circles and trying to figure out what to do to advance to the next stage. Perhaps I'm just dreadfully bad at games, but any indication as to what to do next would have been much appreciated. When I finally figured it out, I didn't feel accomplished, I was just felt relieved to finally be done with it.
This problem isn't helped by how monochromatic and minimal the design of each level is. There are a handful of circular levels in InnerSpace, each with its own set of geography, whether it be ruins or jagged rocks. However, while levels might be distinct from each other, the different points of interest in each all practically look the same. That means that whenever I was lost and couldn't figure out what the next objective was, it made it difficult to use a process of elimination. I wasn't able to tell which structures I had already searched, and with no map, I was forced to wander aimlessly until I stumbled into the next objective, desperately trying to fly into anything. It didn't help that the layout of the terrain itself is confusing, as there is no traditional "up" or "down." Perhaps that's why they call it the Inverse.
This is disappointing, mostly because the game's art style is truly beautiful. There are moments of actual awe in exploring a new environment or discovering a secret corner of the map. However, the beauty is simply not functional. The monochromatic theme of many of the levels is pretty, but it also makes these areas far too difficult to navigate without any guides to keep you on the right track.
One thing that is worth noting is the general lack of meaningful things to do in each explorable area. There are objectives you have to complete to advance the story, including flying through a rope to break it, zooming through tunnels, or catching other flying creatures. Besides that, the only other things to do are look for relics and collect glowing orbs the game calls Wind. These two collectibles help you unlock new airframes, but there are only about five plane models to collect and most of them are either given to you early on or not unlockable until much later in the game. If collect-a-thons interest you, then InnerSpace might peak your interest. If not, you best hope that the game's flying is enough to keep you satisfied.
I'd be remiss if I didn't briefly touch upon the game's final section. There were plenty of frustrating parts throughout the game, but InnerSpace's final area almost makes it all worth it. While it only constitutes the final hour or two of the game, it's by far the most enjoyable section to play through. This is the first section that offers interesting puzzles that, while not very challenging cerebrally, dare you to pull off daring maneuvers that feel satisfying when you nail them. The final area also offers some of the most visually stunning scenes in the game. It's just a shame that this area is locked off until you trudge through the tediousness that is the rest of InnerSpace.
InnerSpace is a difficult game to recommend. It's infuriatingly frustrating at times. If I hadn't been reviewing it, I probably would have stopped playing long before the end. However, there are a few small things that almost made the extreme lows bearable. The controls are hard to get used to at first, but once you do it's an absolute joy to fly around the world of InnerSpace. If you do manage to make it through to the end, the game rewards you by saving its best for last, whether that was intentional or not. So, at the end of the day, while most may not find InnerSpace appealing, there is an audience out there for it. If games like Journey and Abzû spoke to you, perhaps you'll want to give this game a try. Just have a guide on hand for when you inevitably get stuck.
If you can make it through InnerSpace's frustrating and tedious lows, there is some degree of fun to be had. However, this game fails to hold a candle to many of the games it tries to emulate. If good, arcadey flying mechanics are all you need in a game, then this might be for you. There is little else on offer to set itself apart from the rest of the pack.
- Nice Visuals
- Tight Flying Controls
- Vague and Hard-to-find Objectives
- No Story, Only Lore
- Lack of Activities Besides Collectible Gathering